In the time of social distancing, can kids have playdates? What about grandparents? These expert answers will help.

1st grader Evelyn Teo (standing) and kindergartner Brooklyn Ortiz (swinging) play on the swing set at Kasuun Elementary in Anchorage on March 2nd, 2020. Kids won’t have recess for a while due to school closures in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19.(Mayowa Aina/Alaska Public Media)

Schools across Alaska are closed and many childcare centers are shutting down to slowdown the spread af COVID-19. But getting children to practice social-distancing can be a unique challenge on its own.

Read more: Anchorage families scramble to work and care for children with school closures keeping kids home

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services shared a number of recommendations and strategies Thursday that parents can use while caring for children at home.

The following recommendations come from DHSS and Louisa Castrodale, an epidemiologist with the Alaska Division of Public Health:

Can kids get outside and play during social distancing, or do they have to play only inside?

Yes.

The days are getting longer in Alaska and some communities have a lot of remaining snow for outdoor activities. Children can run around, kick a ball back and forth, hike, bike, ice skate, sled, cross country ski and do other activities as long as the weather and conditions allow.

The most important recommendation is to give each other space while doing these activities. Spread yourselves out and maintain 6 feet of distance from people other than family members.

Kids and adults should avoid activities that involve contact with non-family members, like tag, football and hockey.

Do kids need to play only with their siblings and family, or can they play with friends?

Kids can play with friends outside their family circle, but Castrodale said to keep the group small and consistent.

“The fewer people you have contact with, the better,” she said.

If families choose to have play dates, it is best to have play dates with the same family or small group of friends during this period of social distancing. This means choosing another family or a couple of friends to play with during this time, and then only playing and socializing with them.

That doesn’t mean, however, that one day your family plays with one small group of people, the next day they socialize with another small group, and the next day a different group entirely. Limiting interactions to these small groups can prevent the spread of illness. It’s important for parents to make sure that no one in the group shows symptoms of coronavirus or other illnesses.

Kids love to touch and hug others, so remind them not to do that with people outside their family during social distancing. When kids do touch each other, remind them to thoroughly wash their hands or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and to avoid touching their faces.

Families should take their children’s temperatures and ask how they are feeling before socializing with others. Children and adults should stay home and away from others when they have a fever (100.4°F or higher), are coughing or are short of breath. These are some of the symptoms of coronavirus, also called COVID-19.

Families also should follow guidelines about limiting contact with others who have recently traveled outside Alaska. These are found under “COVID-19 Health Alerts and Mandates” on coronavirus.alaska.gov.

Kids with the Mountain View Boys and Girls Club cross Ship Creek with Kris Pacheco (center) and Kate Martin (right) of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (Casey Grove/Alaska Public Media)

Does it matter if these play dates are inside or outside?

Play dates inside a house could be OK, Castrodale said, but the recommendations for small groups and limited interaction still apply.

“I think the bottom line is that play dates where children are not in close proximity are better, and that might be easier outside,” Castrodale said.

“It’s really maintaining distance from one another that’s most important.”

Should children limit playing or socializing with grandparents or other adults over age 60?

Physical interaction between them right now should be limited or avoided. People 60 and older and those with chronic medical conditions, like heart disease and diabetes, face the highest chances for serious health problems related to coronavirus.

“Part of this idea of social distancing is to protect our most vulnerable folks,” Castrodale said.

Instead, use FaceTime or Skype to keep your children and grandparents in contact.

“Right now, the best way to love grandma is to send her a nice note, rather than to see her in person,” Castrodale said.

Read more coronavirus coverage from Alaska Public Media.

What can your kids do before, during and after playing to prevent the spread of illness?

Kids and parents should do several things to prevent getting and spreading illness:

  • Wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. That’s the amount of time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song from start to finish twice. If water is not available, use a hand sanitizer that’s made with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Cover their own mouths and nose when coughing or sneezing, either through coughing into their elbows or ideally using a tissue. Then, immediately throw the tissue away and wash their hands.
  • Avoid touching their faces, especially with unwashed hands. That includes rubbing eyes or touching noses or mouths.
  • Don’t share cups, water bottles, utensils or food.
  • Parents can frequently clean and disinfect surfaces that kids touch a lot, like doorknobs and toys. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published recommendations for cleaning and disinfecting homes with suspected or confirmed coronavirus infections.

What should you do if your child becomes sick?

The most important thing to remember is to keep sick children inside the home and away from others, including siblings.

“Anyone who is sick needs to be isolated,” she said. Of course, a parent will need to provide care for that child, but siblings and others should be separated as much as possible. If parents believe the child needs medical care, they should call their provider before going in to the clinic, she said.

Read the entire blog on the Play Every Day website